Common-Sense Juvenile Justice Reform: Eliminating Fines and Fees on Children

American Children’s Campaign supports ending the harmful practice of imposing fines and fees on Florida children for youthful misbehaviors. In the past decade, the Florida Legislature has promoted children’s futures by removing roadblocks to jobs, education and vocational training, and safe housing. Eliminating fines and fees on children and dually involved youth up to age 21 will promote education, public safety and hope. Only 11% of these assessments – often totaling thousands of dollars per child – are collected. Saddling kids with debt is counterproductive and equates justice based on an ability to pay and leads to intergenerational poverty and other disparities.

Removing additional barriers to success for juveniles is the next step in the prior good work of the Florida Legislature in promoting children’s futures by removing roadblocks to jobs, education and vocational training, and safe housing.

Keep Children Focused on School
Only a meager 11% ($658K) of the roughly $6.2 million in juvenile fines and fees assessed in 2018 were collected. It appears that more is being spent on attempting to collect this debt than what is received. It’s difficult to explain to children who are getting on the right track that they must pay these assessments, often totaling thousands of dollars. Especially when they have no ability to pay – they’re either too young to work, can’t find work or it interferes with school and family obligations.

No Threat to Public Safety
Public safety isn’t benefitted when children are assessed fines and fees. In fact, it’s conclusive from multiple studies that fines and fees trap kids in debt and push them towards further involvement with the juvenile justice system. Emerging evidence shows children of color and low-income children are disproportionately impacted.

Restore Hope to Children and Families
There are serious consequences to unpaid fines and fees. Florida professionals report children receive extended probation and placement, can’t expunge their records, face civil judgment, and have drivers’ licenses suspended. This profoundly harms children in their ability to further their education, maintain jobs, and avoid homelessness.

The unpaid debt, if sent to collection agencies, grows when a surcharge of up to 40% is added. Families report repeated calls and threatening letters, putting them under even more emotional and financial strain.

Fines and fees are also harmful to children who have lingered in Florida’s child welfare system. They are known as “Cross-over Kids.” Without any reliable family support, they are especially burdened when they try to transition from foster care and juvenile justice involvement into adult life.

Alternatives that Work
Alternative ways to hold youth accountable include written apologies, community service, participating in reading, after school or peer leadership programs, receiving mental health care and therapeutic services, and being paired with mentors. These alternatives reinforce rehabilitation – the core focus of the juvenile justice system.

In addition, states across the country are reforming their systems to eliminate fines and fees on children. Highlights include:

  • Maryland (2020): HB 36 eliminated all fines and fees
  • New Hampshire (2020): HB 1162 eliminated costs of child support imposed on parents of youth in the justice system
  • New Jersey (2019): S 48 eliminated all fines and monetary sanctions
  • Nevada (2019): AB 439, a unanimous bipartisan bill, eliminated most fees charged to families
  • New Jersey (2019): S 48 eliminated all fines and monetary sanctions
  • California (2018): SB 190 eliminated almost all juvenile court fees
  • Washington (2015): SB 5564, the Year Act, eliminated numerous juvenile diversion fees, court costs, appellate courts, adjudication fees and certain fines.

Support

  • End the practice of assessing fines and fees on Florida children. Promote courtroom practices leading to positive impacts in communities.
  • Fees should not be required for participation in a diversion program. The goal of the juvenile justice system is to prevent juveniles from entering and/or returning to the system. Charging a fee to participate in diversion creates an unfairness between children from different economic backgrounds.

Legislation

  • What American Children’s Campaign is Saying…

Additional Resources

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